Changing moral codes is always costly: all heretics, apostates, and dissidents know this. We cannot judge our behavior or that of others, driven at that time by the code of that time, on the basis of today’s code; but the anger that pervades us when one of the “others” feels entitled to consider us “apostates,” or, more precisely, reconverted seems right to me.

Are you ashamed because you are alive in place of another? And in particular, of a man more generous, more sensitive, more useful, wiser, worthier of living than you? You cannot block out such feelings: you examine yourself, you review your memories, hoping to find them all, and that none of them are masked or disguised. No, you find no obvious transgressions, you did not usurp anyone’s place, you did not beat anyone (but would you have had the strength to do so?), you did not accept positions (but none were offered to you…), you did not steal anyone’s bread; nevertheless you cannot exclude it. It is no more than a supposition, indeed the shadow of a suspicion: that each man is his brother’s Cain, that each one of us (but at this time I say “us” in a much vaster, indeed, universal sense) has usurped his neighbour’s place and lived in his stead. It is a supposition, but it gnaws at us; it has nestled deeply like a woodworm; although unseen from the outside, it gnaws and rasps.

Primo Levi The Drowned and the Saved, translation Raymond Rosenthal October 1, 2008
Posted on October 1, 2008